I was little and I was fortunate. My brother, four years senior, regularly showed me the ways of the world and was intent on sharing the tricks he had discovered during his extra time on the planet.
Naturally, when starting school I looked to him for advice. How to navigate a strange new world of rules and unfamiliar routines. He obliged of course. Taking me kindly under his wing. In the first few weeks he showed me where to put my bag and how to make friends. Easy enough.
He also taught me about giving someone “the bird.” Sticking your middle finger up at someone was akin to giving a thumbs up – only more friendly.
His reasoning was simple, and logical, to the mind of a five year old.
“Your middle finger is longer than your thumb. So it’s like saying ‘good job’ – only nicer.”
Not long after that informal lesson, I sat diligently on the mat while my teacher drew a polar bear on the board. I could sense her apprehension and wanted to offer support. To say “good job” only nicer.
So when I was subsequently reprimanded by my teacher I felt confused. Misunderstood. And pissed off at my brother.
Gestures can be confusing – especially to the uninitiated.
And so it was on that gloriously sunny, East-Coast Sri Lankan day.
We required transportation at 1 o’clock. The driver shook his head – “OK.”
“2 o’clock?” My wife politely requested.
Another shake of the head. Another “OK.”
3 o’clock then? This time a subtle panic simmered.
More shaking. More OKs.
By this stage, I could barely contain my laughter. In these parts, a shake of the head means a different thing than at home. After all these years, I finally understood the pathetic glory my brother had enjoyed when I was five.
Laughter now poured from both the driver and myself.
Leaving my wife feeling confused, misunderstood and pissed off with me.